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Bucs Nation Q&A with Dave Gardner of Football Outsiders

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With the start of the NFL season upon us, it seemed prudent to take a closer look at some of the Buccaneers 2009 metrics with the help of the good folks over at Football Outsiders....the best inside-the-numbers site on the web, in my humble opinion.  Those guys offer a tremendous resource for putting aside biases and perceptions on a player and taking a clear and open look at pretty much every stat you could ever want or imagine.  I highly recommend setting up an account and checking them out if you haven't already.

Dave Gardner from FO was good enough to respond to some questions I posed to him, and his answers are as follows.....

1) Much has been made about Barrett Ruud's productivity at Bucs Nation, or lack thereof, in 2009 in Jim Bates' 2-gap system.  Ruud appears to lack the ability of elite MLBs to shed blocks, slash through players, and make plays consistently. However, as we saw in 2007 and the majority of 2008 in the Tampa 2 defense, Ruud is an instinctive player and seems more than adept at making plays, both against the run and in the passing game, when he has an aggressive defensive front keeping the blockers off of him and giving him a free-and-clear 3-5 yard cushion from the line of scrimmage.  Do the metrics support Ruud's seeming success and struggles in and out of the Tampa 2?

-- Our stats show that Ruud was actually quite productive last year. He was second in the league with 150 plays, behind only San Francisco stud Patrick Willis. I think there were a couple of things going against Ruud last year, though. First, the defensive line was really sloppy. They didn't sustain blocks at the line and left him to clean up the mess way too deep down the field. Second, the Tampa 2 tends to force the play of the ball toward one side of the field, the weak side (which is why Brooks always had so many tackles), Bates' scheme wasn't as structured. Finally, he wasn't playing with nearly the same quality of linebackers as he had in recent seasons and was probably caught trying to do too much. So some of his other advanced stats went down, like his success rate, which was 52% the lowest of his career, and his yards per play given up was 5.4 (compared to 4.5 two years ago). He's not an aggressive playmaker so to speak (as in, he's not gonna catch a lot of interceptions or get sacks), but he does play exceptionally well against the run and surprisingly well against the pass, especially in the Tampa 2, where he's asked to drop deeper in to coverage. In short, I think he was a very good middle linebacker last year surrounded by some less than mediocre players. The increase in talent in front of him and the experience now around him should free him up to make more plays this season.
2) What defensive statistic would you say is generally the most reflective of the Buccaneer's poor performance against the run in 2009?

-- Well, there are a bunch. The Bucs pretty much regressed in every defensive front seven statistic we keep. They were 11th in the league last year to 28th this year in Adjusted Line Yards. They dropped from 16th to 31st in our power metric, and 16th to 31st on second-level runs. But I'll give you one that might be a bit more encouraging. The Bucs' real weakness in the running game last season was up the middle. They allowed a league worst 4.76 yards a play when teams ran it right down their gut. With two new defensive tackles in the fold, the Bucs should improve there this season.
3) Based on the statistical performance of the offensive line in 2009, which of the 5 starting offensive linemen graded out the best in the running game?  Who fared the worst?

-- The worst was Jeremy Trueblood. By far. He was really bad. Trueblood led all offensive linemen -- not just in Tampa, but around the league -- with 10 blown blocks leading to sacks last season. And, as you know from watching him, he costs the team so much with stupid penalties because he can't control his temper. But you asked about the run, and he was above-average against the run. When the Bucs ran behind him, they averaged 4.26 yards a play, which was 12th in the league. But actually, they were even more successful running behind Donald Penn and Davin Joseph on the left side of the line, averaging 4.87 yards a pop -- good for fifth in the league. Davin Joseph is clearly the best combo blocker that the Bucs have, and he's the anchor of that line from the inside.
4) An interesting tidbit from your article on the Buccaneers was how the Bucs recovered 18 of 23 fumbles on offense and 8 of 10 on defense, which led the NFL percentage-wise.  How much better was this than the next best team? What was the NFL mean or average for percentage of fumbles recovered and should Buccaneer fans consider the 2009 statistic to be an anomaly?

-- Well, to answer the last question first -- yes. It is an anomaly. Recovering fumbles is almost entirely based on luck, and teams that have exceptional years (either bad or good) tend to regress to the mean the next season. In other words, I would expect the Bucs not to be as lucky this season. In general, teams will recover half of all fumbles, although the percentage is different depending on the kind of fumble (on a sack vs. an aborted snap vs. a receiver 30 yards downfield, for example). The team with the next-best recovery rate was Chicago on offense (13 of 18, 72%) and Kansas City on defense (11 of 16, 69%).
5) Arguably the biggest pick up for the Buccaneers this offseason has been Sean Jones.  Although he's led the league before in interceptions for a strong safety, what do the metrics show about him?  Is he an above-average NFL strong safety against the run?  The pass?

-- Pretty much any strong safety in the league is going to be an upgrade from Sabby Piscitelli, first of all. Sabby led the NFL in broken tackles with 19 last season. No other defender came even close to that. Jones is a good but not great strong safety against the run. He's got a 36 percent stop rate and ranks 30th among NFL players in the secondary by allowing just 6.3 yards a run, which shows you that the Eagles often played him in the box. He's a good pass defender as well and should benefit from playing opposite of the rangy Tanard Jackson this season. He'll be a huge improvement over Sabby, but not a Pro Bowl-type player.

If these little nuggets of football wisdom have whet your appetite for more inside and in-depth football information, you can pick up the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac either here at or here through Football Outsiders.

So what do you think, Bucs Nation?  Weigh in.....